Shaping the future: 2015 Governance Institute of Australia National Conference — Day One recap

Day One of Governance Institute’s 32nd National Conference held at the Grand Hyatt in Melbourne delivered delegates a comprehensive overview of Australia’s evolving governance and risk landscape. 

Themed ‘Shaping the future’, it provided a rare opportunity for over 300 company directors, company secretaries and governance and risk professionals to hear insights from the nation’s leading practitioners and influencers.

Kevin Lewis from Australian Securities Exchange (ASX), Sarah Goodman from the Australian Prudential Regulation Authority (APRA), Murray Baird from the Australian Charities and Not-for-profits Commission (ACNC), and Commissioner John Price from the Australian Securities and Investments Commission (ASIC) provided a stellar line-up for the day’s first panel discussion. 

Topics discussed included the increasing importance regulators are placing on corporate culture and the escalating risk of cyber security, with which many board members and management are still grappling to understand, as noted by a number of the panellists.

Sarah Goodman from APRA said that boards need to delegate responsibility, but not accountability, arguing that culture is a by-product of two things: the way a board and management set expectations and follow them up, and their overall compliance and risk approach. 

The day then turned its focus to the economy with Paul Bloxham, Chief Economist (Australia & New Zealand), Global Research, HSBC Bank Australia Limited providing his insights into the performance of the Australian and the global economy. Paul focused on Australia’s strong ties to Asia, in particular the role of China in supporting Australia’s growth. Paul also believes that the services sector will be key to this growth, claiming there is over-sensitivity to the decline of the mining boom, noting that the mining sector represents only 10 per cent of Australia’s economy.

John Daley, Chief Executive of the Grattan Institute, then took to the stage to challenge the commonly held view that people make choices about products in a rational and calculated way. In fact, he argued that most decision-making processes are intuitive and automatic, rather than deliberate and controlled. 

The next session turned to another form of disruption — the digital economy. Matt Symons, Chief Executive Officer and Co-founder of SocietyOne discussed the importance of test and learn exercises in the digital world and how digital platforms such as Uber and AirBNB are creating trust between strangers. He believes that the way boards and management respond to digital disruption is critical to creating business resilience. Governance professionals and board members need to be prepared to be disrupted and ensure that their business model can adapt.

Things took a more sinister turn when Chris Gatford from Hacklabs, together with Roger Darvall-Stevens and Michael Shatter from RSM Bird Cameron took to the stage to discuss the virtual certainty of future crime. They confronted delegates by telling them that ‘insiders’ cause 23 per cent of cyber crime and that the biggest risk companies face is staff intentionally or unintentionally leaving their organisation vulnerable. Clearly, in their view, cyber security must be high on any board’s agenda.

David Saxelby, President from Construction & Infrastructure Australia, Lend Lease tackled a different type of complexity when he discussed the workings of contracting with government, particularly on mega projects. And he discussed what we need to do, which is to ensure that we have the right leadership in place and an effective governance structure for an effective contract. 

The day ended with Clint Hinchen from International law firm Allens, and Chris Martin from 333 Group, who shared their views on the way that governance professionals can best support a board dealing with solvency issues. They emphasised the importance of stakeholder communications, claiming effective communications are just as important as finding a solvency solution and that the most important element is communicating the problem and the solution with all stakeholders. Chris stressed that ‘hope is not a strategy’ and that the Federal Government will release an innovation statement that may support directors taking appropriate risks to bring an organisation back to solvency.

After the day’s formal presentations wrapped up, delegates then donned their best black-tie for the conference Gala dinner. Dinner guest speaker Sara James, an Emmy award-winning foreign correspondent, author and commentator with expertise in international affairs, politics and education, wowed delegates as they dined with her tales from the journalism front-line. She provided delegates with the advice that ‘when in doubt, do, but do your homework first.’

Then it was time to announce this year’s President’s Award and Life Membership Award.

The President’s Award acknowledges a person who has made a substantial and sustained contribution in the form of exceptional service to the work of Governance Institute. The 2015 President’s Award was awarded to Chris O’Meara, who received the acknowledgement for a number of reasons, but mostly for his passion for education.

Many say his good sense of humour and practical approach to teaching through using practical examples is what makes him a truly exceptional educator.

Life Membership is granted to a person whose contribution has had a lasting impact on the status of the professionalism and stewardship of Governance Institute or overseen major changes in the organisation. This year’s Life Membership Award was presented to two people: 

  • Lawrence Tutton, a company secretary of ASX listed companies for the past 25 years and who has acted as corporate counsel for 40 years, and 
  • outgoing Governance Institute CEO Tim Sheehy, who rejuvenated the Institute to what it is today — a major contributor in shaping the governance framework in Australia.

Delegates who attend will have access to the available presentations.

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